I first heard about quark while watching an episode of Chopped where it was one of four mystery ingredients the contestants would have to use in a challenge. The name alone intrigued me, but I became even more curious as I watched them cook with it. It looked creamy and dense, like yogurt with more heft to it, and they were using it in a variety of sweet and savory ways that made me desperately want to try it for myself. Sadly, this was a few years before Greek yogurt alternatives, like the Icelandic skyr, really started to take off so I didn't have much luck tracking it down. But then I moved to Germany, which is where the food comes from, and I haven't been able to get enough since.
Though it tastes like yogurt, quark is actually fresh cheese, Joey Wells, global senior coordinator of specialty cheese at Whole Foods Market, tells SELF. "The texture is just slightly denser and the flavor is a little more creamy while keeping the rich tartness of the similar products," he explains. To make any kind of yogurt (Greek yogurt included), all you have to do is heat milk until it's slightly curdled, then, after the mixture has had time to cool, add yogurt starter (which you can usually find at the store or online, like this one. You can find out all about the process here. But to make quark, he says, although you do have to heat milk until it curdles, you don't have to add anything else—all you have to do is stir the curd until it achieves a creamy texture, then strain it when it's finished cooking to remove excess liquid and create a firmer final product.
Quark and Greek yogurt are similar in flavor and nutritional profile—it's high in protein and fats and low in carbs. Wells says that some might prefer quark because it can have a lower caloric content than similar products, but that people generally choose it because they like the flavor and texture. "For most, the preference relates to the product they are replacing with the quark," he explains, "for example, using quark instead of cream cheese because it gives the flavor and texture of cheese, but a tangier flavor profile, or using it instead of sour cream because it's thicker and creamier."
Wells says that quark is indigenous to German-speaking, Eastern European countries, but nowadays you can buy it all around the world, including in America. Look for Elli Quark at health food stores like Whole Foods Market, or use the brand's product locator to help you track it down at a supermarket near you. If you manage to get your hands on it, find out how to use quark below.
It'll make all of your smoothies super velvety.
If you're not a fan of watery smoothies, quark will ensure that you never make one again. It's so thick and creamy, adding even just one tablespoon to your smoothie will give it a texture more like pudding. It's even better for smoothie bowls, because that thick texture will help you keep your fancy toppings afloat, unlike in a thin smoothie where they're more likely to sink to the bottom.
With just a few toppings, it makes a great, high-protein snack.
When I'm in a rush and I need to eat something that I know will keep me full, I scoop a few spoonfuls of quark into a bowl, top it with nuts, or honey, or fruit, or all of the above and dig in. It's extremely satisfying because it packs a powerful punch of both protein and fats, not just because of the toppings but because of the quark itself. And because it has a relatively tame flavor, it's a great canvas for all kinds of ingredients. You could even turn it into a savory snack by topping it with salty, toasted pumpkin seeds or chopped vegetables.
Use it as a base for tart, creamy salad dressings.
You can easily swap quark into any salad dressing recipes that call for sour cream or Greek yogurt. I like to combine it with garlic, white wine vinegar, and any spices I have around for a sauce that's quick and luxurious, which is what I did for the salad featured above. As long as you're adding some kind of acid to loosen up the quark, whether that's vinegar or citrus juice, you'll be able to make something fabulous in no time.
Stir it into a pasta sauce in place of sour or heavy cream.
For the dreamiest pasta you've ever eaten, add a dollop of quark! It adds a nice tang to heavy mac and cheeses, and it makes things like Alfredo sauce creamier than you could have ever imagined.
Or mix it with a bit of honey to use as a topping for baked fruit or other desserts.
This is one of my favorite quark tricks: I like to combine the ingredient with a bit of honey to give it just a touch of sweetness, then I serve it over raw or baked fruit, or even over pastries. Because it's more tart than sweet, it keeps desserts decadent, but not overwhelming.
Now that you know how to use quark, add it to your cart the next time you run into it at the supermarket. Whatever you're cooking, whether it's breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert, the ingredient will surely be a great addition.